Updated: The lese majeste black hole

13 12 2015

Pravit Rojanaphruk refers to Thailand as “A Kingdom in Denial.” His op-ed refers to the remarkably “efficient” self- and official censorship of Thailand’s mainstream media on anything that might be interpreted as in any way critical of the monarchy. He argues that this process has been “normalized.”

He adds that the flip-side of repression, censorship and the heavy penalties of lese majeste is the ever more ridiculous official veneration of a now invisible monarch and his dysfunctional family.

Pravit is right. But Thailand under the military dictatorship is bleaker than even he suggests.

As Pravit wrote, the junta had its military and police lese majeste thugs out searching for another “dangerous” Facebook fan who clicked “like” on the “wrong” link. They promise that “hundreds” more could follow, filling the jails with political “opponents.”

An military court has issued an arrest warrant for 25-year-old Thanet Anantawong. He “faces charges of lese majeste, inciting disorder and computer crimes.” Reports say he “shared” the same “infographic detailing the alleged [sic.] web of corruption in the Rajabhakti Park scandal.”

A photo from The Straits TimesIn fact, the corruption has been admitted by General Udomdej Sitabutr. He seems to have disappeared from the headlines as the lese majeste witch hunt takes over.

The police say that Thanet “was among a group of student activists who attempted to visit Rajabhakti Park in Hua Hin on Monday, but were intercepted by military officers.” Those military officers some in uniform and others disguised as “protesters” against the students, are just one part of the junta’s cover-up of military corruption that extends into the palace.

The military say will be taking Thanakorn, a 27 year-old worker, to a military court tomorrow.

The connection between Corruption Park, the military and the palace is said by the junta to involve “the royal institution indirectly because it includes references to Suriyan “Mor Yong” Sucharitpolwong — the well-known fortune teller charged with lese majeste who recently died in military custody.”

This claim that lese majeste is involved is ludicrous. Given that the military junta brought lese majeste charges against Suriyan, then presumably they must also arrest themselves and everyone else involved with the case. This is the lese majeste vortex at work sucking in and destroying “opponents.” It is at work because the junta is covering up its own corruption with the use of lese majeste charges.

The situation is obvious to everyone but the dictatorship holds all the repressive cards.

Thailand is in a lese majeste repression black hole that operates as a dark vortex. It sucks in not just opponents but deforms everything in the country – institutions, civil society, habits and more. This is not a political transformation but a societal deformation in the interests of an oligarchy that protects its capacity to exploit, consuming the country, its people, everything.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that Thanet has been arrested and taken to the deadly military prison at the 11th Military Circle. Social media reports that he was snatched from a hospital bed.

Who got the loot?

24 11 2015

Despite the Army’s claims to the contrary, it seems pretty clear that some at the very top of the Army have made personal fortunes from corrupt activities. In this sense, the relatively small amounts skimmed from the one-billion-baht Rajabhakti Park project are just a part of a long-standing corruption in the military.

As we keep saying, if you look at their assets declarations, almost every single member of the current junta has assets that far exceed what might be expected from their official salaries. No one ever seems to investigate these revelations of “unusual wealth.”

The Rajabhakti Park project offers yet another opportunity to scrutinize the top brass’s capacity for corruption.

The Bangkok Post reports that “[p]ressure is mounting on the army after graft watchdogs signalled they would start an external investigation…”.

The next National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) meeting is going to come under huge pressure to drop this idea. The pressure will come from Generals Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prawit Wongsuwan.

The NACC secretary-general Sansern Poljeak states that the agency “has been gathering facts on the park for the last two weeks.” The NACC may whitewash as well, but that remains unclear at this point.

The NACC is supported by the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT) which “will write to the army Tuesday, urging it to let external bodies examine details of the construction of Rajabhakti Park.”

ACT secretary-general Mana Nimitmongkol said “[t]oo little information has been released to the public…”.

Army commander Theerachai Nakvanich has tried to cover up the investigations and has stated that “there was no need for other agencies, including the NACC, to investigate the case…”.

Prawit has mumbled something about the NACC probing the Rajabhakti Park project “if there are grounds for an investigation.” But he was clear that no one should investigate junta member General Udomdej Sitabutr. He stated: “No press briefing is needed. Let the army handle the issue [regarding the press]…”.

In another Bangkok Post report, Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinsulanonda “has advised the army to spend its budget well, because it is not rich.” Maybe he means not rich enough?

His speech, however, did deem a warning to the junta: “mature adults must possess moral integrity as a safeguard against corrupt practices and any temptation to take advantage of others.”

There seem few such adults in Thailand’s military, police or business sector. Even the palace seems unable to enter adulthood as defined by Prem.

Watch Seripisut

23 11 2015

A couple of days ago, PPT briefly mentioned Seripisut Temiyavet and the military junta’s attack on him for his comments on military corruption.

We think he’s worth watching for a while. In the past, he was often said to be a palace favorite. When the military took over in 2006, Seripisut was made acting and then Police Commissioner and became a member of the junta’s Council for National Security. He was not always “reliable” as police chief and was even accused of lese majeste at one point. His relationship with Prem Tinsulanonda is sometimes described as “good” but he has clashed with the grand old man.

As a story at the Bangkok Post notes, Seripisut is seen to be on the “yellow” side of politics.The story states that he “generally supported the 2014 military coup and government takeover.”

Thus, it seems significant that the military junta has targeted him and that he has responded by challenging “authorities to prove his charges of high-level military corruption are wrong…”. He added, in a speech: “But I will tell you that those military people will never prove me wrong.”

The military regime charges him with sedition for his comments on the Rajabhakti Park project. This project and its acknowledged and then denied corruption is challenging the junta and Seripisut is a target meant to be on the junta’s side. Splits and conflicts are always damaging.

Getting rid of evidence

12 11 2015

The deaths in military custody of lese majeste suspects Prakrom Warunprapha and Suriyan Sujaritpalawong means that evidence of military wrongdoing on the the military’s homage to some monarchs at Rajabhakti Park.

That one of the military men accused in the corruption and royal-linked case – Col Khachachart Boondee – has fled the country also helps the high-level military figures involved and stymies investigations.

Is anyone surprised when yet another person involved has fled? No, no one.

The Bangkok Post reports that “[a]n amulet trader accused of demanding millions of baht of commission fees during the construction of the Rajabhakti Park … has fled the country…”. How convenient is that. He is said to have flown out on a TG flight last Friday. He had already been “interviewed” about the case.

We can’t help but wonder if Jirawong Wattanathewasilp will appear in court today, as scheduled. He’s the ast survivor of the three men arrested for “lese majeste” in mid-October.

Palace lese majeste

9 11 2015

The lese majeste purge is again reaching into the palace. Khaosod has an important report that it states: “Due to Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws, this story has been self-censored by Khaosod English.”

While the king has not been seen for weeks and has been ill to the extent of barely being compus mentis, he is said to have issued an order that “has revoked all royal decorations from the deputy commander of the royal household’s bodyguard unit.” This refers to Maj Gen Pisitsak Seniwong na Ayutthaya.Pisitsak

Apparently, this is to remove the royal decorations of a dead man. As reported at Asia Sentinel:

In the latest purge, two top police officials have died mysteriously and a third has disappeared. Major General Phisitsak Seniwong Na Ayutthaya, the prince’s main bodyguard, died in mid-October. Local media have been so terrified by the situation that they have hesitated to name Phisitsak in print. His family was told he had committed suicide by hanging himself with his shirt.

The Khaosod report states that “Pisitsak was fired from the military on Oct. 16, the statement said, the same day police announced a crackdown on individuals accused of exploiting ties to the monarchy.”

The order signed by the king (so they say) and The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, claims that Pisitsak engaged in “gravely evil behavior.” This, according to the government order, amounts to “disobedience to King Bhumibol and his commanding officers and exploiting ties to the Royal Family for his own gain.”

We understand that he had a falling out with the prince. He’s now believed dead. And its seems he is also to be disgraced: “Pisitsak was stripped by royal proclamation of seven decorations awarded to him by the King for his service.”

The report goes on:

“He disobeyed Royal Instructions and refuses to comply with orders from commanding officers,” read a notice in today’s Royal Gazette, which publishes formal government orders. “He falsely claimed to act upon Royal Orders and abused his power in an unlawful way, seeking gains for himself and his clique. He posed a threat to the security of the Institution [the monarchy].”

We understand the “commanding officer” to be Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. He previously ousted members of his body guard. The body guards close to the prince appear to be in a risky profession.

How many more will be purged? How many more will die?

Getting the story straightened out

6 11 2015

The military regime is having a devil of a time getting its lese majeste purge story straight.

Three or four days ago, Pol Lt Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, acting deputy national police chief in charge of the investigation, was reported in a Bangkok Post story as announcing that “between 40 and 50 military major generals and colonels could be involved in the current high-profile lese majeste case…”.

Within 24 hours, that story was wound back with shouts about “no solid evidence” and mumbles that the police boss “had been misquoted.” Even so, it was reported that the “army has launched a probe into reports a major general and a colonel…”. Of these two, it was reported that one was “a senior officer attached to the Army Secretary Office,” and the other had fled over the border to Myanmar.

Asia Sentinel tried to help out, but that story is not what the regime wants heard.

After 48 hours, it is reported that “[n]o military officers were involved in the latest lese majeste case, according to a police investigation to date, which is 90% complete.”

The very same Pol Lt Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, acting deputy police chief in charge of the investigation, “said although Suriyan Sucharitpolwong, the key suspect in custody, had implicated some army officers, his testimony was not accepted.”

Not accepted? Well, certainly not accepted by “Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his deputy, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, [who] denied the reports, saying they had no knowledge of their involvement in the case.”

In a land under the military boot, where the junta is engaged in all manner of manipulation and censorship, perhaps this “no knowledge” is sufficient to bring the police into line and to get the public story straight.

But maybe not. The Bangkok Post seems less than convinced, adding this detail to its story:

But it was reported on Friday Col Yutthapong Klantakasuwan, head of the Thai-Myanmar local border committee, sent an urgent letter to Myanmar authorities, seeking the deportation of Col Kachachart Boondee of the 3rd Army Region, who had illegally crossed the Mae Hong Son border to Myanmar on Nov 1.

Col Kachachart was promoted to deputy commander of the 11th Circle Army by former army chief Gen Udomdej Sitabutr shortly before Gen Udomdej retired on Sept 30.

However, when Gen Theerachai Nakvanich took over as army chief, he transferred Col Kachachart back to the 3rd Army Region as chief of staff on Oct 5.

Pol Gen Srivara said on Friday if the colonel is deported, police might invite him for questioning as Mr Suriyan had been photographed in the company of several officers on various occasions. [Suriyan was a celebrity astrologer to many in the Army and other services, so if photos are evidence, then there are hundreds involved.]

“If the investigation leads to anyone, we’ll definitely take legal action even if he is a military officer. But to date, there are only three suspects in this case,” Pol Gen Srivara said.

“As for the persons implicated by the suspects, we have yet to charge them,” he said.

The police general added the investigation is almost complete, pending some forensic tests.

We doubt many people will believe any of this tale. The truth is not permitted or allowed when the monarchy, palace and royal family is involved.


Unleashing extremism

2 11 2015

Unleashing extremists has long been a tactic employed by the military when dealing with political opposition. This was especially clear during the 1973-76 period when rightists associated with the palace and often led by military figures were used to create unrest and destroy opponents. This often led to murder and what are now called enforced disappearances. The role of the Red Gaur and Village Scouts in the 6 October 1976 is available in the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars (clicking downloads a 70 page PDF).

The Red Gaur was led by Army intelligence officer Maj. Gen. Sudsai Hasdin. For a time, under General Prem Tinsulanonda’s administration, Sudsai was appointed Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. He and his supporters were often used to pressure opponents with the threat of more mayhem and violence.

Also in that period, rightist monks were active, including the notorious, palace-linked Kittivudho Bhikkhu, who claimed that killing Communists was not much of a sin. He meant all “leftists” who were also considered a threat to the monarchy. He was also a fraudster and shyster. More recently, the military supported the People’s Democratic Reform Committee which had rightist and royalist monk Buddha Issara as one of its leaders.

In other words, rightist extremism is not unusual in Thailand, and has long been supported by both palace and military. Such extremism is promoted by the aggressive notions of the trilogy of Nation, Religion and Monarchy that has been promoted in society, producing xenophobia as well as ultra-royalism and ultra-nationalism.

This is a long introduction to a disturbing report at Prachatai. It states that the monk “Aphichat Promjan, chief lecturer monk at Benjamabophit Temple, a Bangkok temple under royal patronage” has “suggested that the government should burn a mosque for every Buddhist monk killed in the restive Deep South.”

He also urged the government to “arm the Buddhist population in the Deep South as a measure to protect ‘defenseless’ Buddhist monks and people in the area from being targeted by what he called ‘Malayu bandits’.” That aligns with a program that was implemented from about 2004 and saw the arming of Buddhists at the queen’s urging. The aligning of extreme nationalism, royal urging and rights is seen in a Wikileaks cable from 2005.

While this monk probably draws some inspiration from right-wing nationalist monks in Burma, with a dangerous military dictatorship in power in Bangkok, working hard to eliminate all political opposition, the emergence of such rightists and extremists is, sadly, to be expected. The support they receive from military and palace emboldens them.


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